notre dame montreal

The Trinity

A Sermon for Trinity Sunday

by The Reverend Dr Sam Cappleman

Today is Trinity Sunday, where we celebrate the triune nature of God

It’s as if we’ve been taken up by the happenings of Easter, the crucifixion and the resurrection, shortly followed by the Ascension and then last week Pentecost we’ve finally got time to draw our breath and look around us at what it all means

We’ve seen God the creator send His Son to be incarnate on the earth, we’ve witnessed to power of the Spirit. We’ve seen the threefold Triune God we worship in action and it’s easy to take it all for granted

But the concept of the trinity has been debated by theologians for years and still is one of the key differences between the Western and Orthodox churches

One early theologian (Tertullian) postulated that the OT was the time of God the Father, the NT was the time of God the Son, and we are now living in the time of God the Holy Spirit, a model known as the economic Trinity. One God, three persons, three phases of dealing with the world.

Augustine modified this and for him the primordial God was the Trinity and the tree persons of the trinity exist in relationship to each other as the lover, the beloved and the love which flows between them. And it’s this view we still predominantly have today in the western churches.

Needles to say, the Trinity is complex, and a subject which has kept theologians busy for years

Is God one being with three facets or is He three components comprising one whole? Why does it matter? It matters because how we understand the Trinity effects the way we look at our lives and our relationship with God, and together can make a major difference as to how we look at ourselves as the corporate body of God on earth.

Is the church one body made up of individuals or do individuals make up the church?

Because the Trinity is not just abstract theory, it’s where we live in the Kingdom of God and how we understand who God is and what is his nature influences who we are, what we are and what we believe. Its fundamental stuff!

Take for example the Jews. Twice a day the Jews recite the Shema’, in essence their creedo

Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one
Shema Yisrael Adonai Eloheinu Adonai Echad

For the Jews the concept of a Triune God is an anathema, it does not compute. How can God be one and three, it doesn’t make sense

Fortunately in the gospel of John we have some clarification, or perhaps as we should say at this exam time, some examples that have been worked through for us

In John chapter 3 we have the story we’re all familiar with, the story of Nicodemus, a story which has many parallels with the story in John chapter 2, the wedding at Cana

They start of in much the same way, a description of the scene followed by the word WAS

WAS the mother of Jesus there, WAS a man from among the Pharisees there

It’s a device the writer uses to contrast the Old Covenant with the New, the Old is passed, the New is upon them

He greets Jesus as a Rabbi, as a fellow equal, and comments on the miracles

Jesus cuts him short and says that no-one can see the Kingdom of God unless he is born again, born from above, born from ‘UP’ there (Gk = anothen)

It’s not a question of being born into the right family (i.e. a Jewish one)

Remember in the wedding at Cana in Galilee Jesus asks that the water jars are filled UP and then touched by God are transformed into wine

Nicodemus questions Jesus as to how this can be and Jesus relies that if a person is not born out of water and spirit he cannot enter into the Kingdom of God

The water, the very stuff of our human lives must be exposed to the Spirit so that our lives can be transformed as we let go of the Old (Covenant) and enter the new. As we let go of our egocentricity and allow God to take control as we enter into His kingdom

We are no longer in control but allow the spirit to blow where it will and guide us where He wants to take us. To lead us into all truth as John goes on to describe in John 14.

We are doing the will of the Father, controlled by the Spirit, 2 facets of the Trinity

Nicodemus then asks how this can be, how can a person get access to the UP

Jesus replies and says that it’s only through the person who was UP and has now come DOWN that we can be born from above, that’s why He will be lifted UP so that anyone who believes in Him can have eternal life, life of a new aeon, a New Covenant

Jesus, the Word made flesh, the Word sent down, only to go back when His work is complete

(He’s already mentions that Nathaniel will see heaven opened and the angels ascending and descending on the Son of Man)

It is the work of the Son, the third facet of the Trinity to give us access back to a relationship with our creator God, to give us life, not to condemn, as the closing verses of the passage emphasis

What’s fascinating about this exchange with Nicodemus in John 3 is that John is articulating the doctrine of the Trinity before we had a doctrine of the Trinity

The Trinity is not just a New Testament concept. When God created the world back in Genesis it was a plural God that did so. When Abraham had the three visitors, it’s often interpreted as a visitation from the Trinity, the Triune God

But what Jesus did was breathe life into the Trinity, give it form and a true three dimensional perspective

Nicodemus, a man of great faith, needed to see his faith in a different light, needed a fresh approach to his beliefs

It isn’t jut a question about knowing about God, knowing the laws of the Torah and teaching them to others, its about letting go so that the Spirit of the living God can take over

God is too big to know in our heads, we need to know Him in our hearts

Neither is it about just focusing on the miracles, the things that had perhaps first caught Nicodemus’ attention

If we do that we tend to find God only in the extra-ordinary, not in the ordinary

The way of the Trinity is not about living at a higher level of reality, some mystical height of experience; it’s about the living out of the life of God in the world, in the ordinary and everyday

To enjoy a relationship with the creator God, through the redeeming work of the Son who is the access from this world and the heavenly world, empowered by the Spirit as we continue to be led in all truth.